If you’re shopping for a used car, you might not know where to begin. Car shopping is exciting, but it can be a little confusing and stressful too – especially if you’re dealing with a seller who wants to put you in their car as quickly as possible. Can you trust them? How can you be sure you’re getting the best deal?
You don’t have to go it alone. Direct Auto has got your back with these tips to help you stand your ground while shopping for a used car, so you can drive away with a safe and reliable used vehicle.
Reasons to Buy a Used Car
There are benefits and drawbacks to purchasing any type of vehicle, new or used, but if you’re car shopping, consider these reasons to buy a used car:
- Purchasing a used car can help you save money on auto insurance.
- Used cars depreciate less over time.
- Used vehicles are less expensive than brand new ones, and are usually just as reliable.
- Older vehicles tend to have cheaper registration fees.
12 Tips for Shopping for a Used Car
There are plenty of tips, tricks, and used car shopping hacks that can help you find the right used vehicle for you. These tips will help guide you in the right direction.
1. Calculate what you can afford, and stick to it
Used car salespeople are in the business of moving inventory off their lot, and that inventory might not always match up with the best vehicle for you and your budget. Understanding how much car you can afford helps narrow down your options and prevents you from being pressured into buying a car that’s out of your price range.
Try using NerdWallet’s auto loan calculator to estimate your monthly auto loan payment. With a realistic budget in mind, you can shop for a safe, reliable vehicle within a price range you can afford.
2. Consider all fees and costs
Your monthly car payment isn’t your only car-related expense. Vehicle costs can quickly add up and might catch you by surprise. Don’t forget about the other costs associated with buying a car, like vehicle maintenance, gas, insurance, and title and registration fees.
3. Do your research
Be sure to read reviews and compare and contrast vehicle makes, models, and financing options to make a well-informed decision. One great way to get the scoop on a specific used vehicle is by browsing message boards or forums dedicated to the car you’ve been eyeing. Find one that discusses the make, model, and year of the vehicle you’re interested in and see what other owners have to say.
You’ll learn about things that only vehicle owners can speak to, which could help you avoid buying a vehicle that is costly to maintain. It could also help you avoid a potential price trap and give you more leverage when it comes time to settle on a price. For instance, say the transmission in the 2015 truck you want tends to fail way before its time. A dealer may offer this truck model year at a rock bottom price to get it off the lot, but if you’ve been doing your research, you’ll know to run far, far away from this price trap.
4. Compare prices from multiple dealerships
Shopping around is so important if you’re searching for the perfect used car. You may find a great deal at your first stop, but you could find an even better one at the next dealership. Keep track of prices by taking photos and notes.
5. Test drive more than one vehicle
You may be set on a specific make and model, but try to keep an open mind and test drive a few different types of vehicles. For example, maybe your dream car actually comes with a huge blindspot, or you notice that the engine makes a knocking noise that gets louder as you pick up speed, which usually indicates damage. You won’t know until you get behind the wheel!
6. Don’t get “curbstoned”
You can buy a used car from a professional salesperson, an auction, a neighbor, or even on Craigslist. If you choose to steer clear of the local used car lot, beware of getting “curbstoned.” Curbstoning is a scam that’s named because the transaction takes place at the curb in front of a house in a residential neighborhood. According to Road and Track, “The car’s perceived value is higher when being sold by an individual in a nice neighborhood than it would be when sold by a used car dealer in a bad part of town.”
However, that’s not to say buying a used car in front of someone’s house is always a scam. Ask to see the vehicle title and make sure it’s titled to the person you’re meeting. If it’s not, you may want to look elsewhere.
If you find a used car listed on Craiglist or another site, check out other listings to see if the seller’s contact information is posted with any other vehicles. Many curbstoners will have several cars listed at the same time, which is usually a sign that they aren’t someone who is simply selling their car.
7. Shop during off-times and in bad weather
This trick works especially well if you’re headed to a dealership. Shop during weekdays, in the early to mid-afternoon, or in cold weather, and you won’t have to compete with other customers for test drives or good bargains. With demand seemingly low, the salesperson may be willing to cut you a sweet deal.
8. Go with a stick shift
Fewer people know how to drive a stick shift these days, and if you do, you could score a great deal on a used manual vehicle. Plus, compared to vehicles with automatic transmissions, vehicles with manual transmissions tend to be lower-priced, get better gas mileage, and generally require fewer and less expensive brake and transmission repairs.
9. Get a vehicle history report
If you’re shopping for a used car, a vehicle history report is non-negotiable. It offers insight into a car’s past, so you can make a more informed decision about how much you should pay for the vehicle – or whether you should buy it at all. A vehicle history report includes information about a vehicle’s ownership, title status, accident history, service history, safety recalls, mileage, and more. All you need is the vehicle’s VIN number to get started.
Reputable dealers offer free Carfax reports for the cars they have for sale. If a used car listing online doesn’t include a link to a free Carfax report, request one. After all, this is your money and your decision. You deserve to drive away in a safe, reliable vehicle – not one that’s full of hidden problems that are expensive to fix and compromise your safety.
10. Inspect the car closely
While a vehicle history report can give you a wealth of information about the car you want to buy, it doesn’t tell you everything you need to know. For example, it won’t tell you about the mechanical condition of the car or whether some parts are worn out or prone to early failure. Popular Mechanics has a comprehensive used-car checklist that can help you understand what to look for in every part of your car, plus the dealbreakers. If the seller does not provide a pre-sale inspection with a similar checklist, move on to our next tip.
11. Know that it’s O.K. to walk away
It doesn’t matter if the person trying to sell you a used car has spent a lot of time answering your questions. It doesn’t matter if they tell you that they passed up a sale on account of you. It doesn’t matter if they say they’re disappointed. The only thing that matters is that you get the safe, reliable car you want at a price you can handle. If anything less is on the table, walk away.
12. Compare car insurance prices
The car buying process can feel like a maze. Don’t let the twists and turns cause you to overlook the fact that a new car and car insurance go hand-in-hand. Getting car insurance quotes for multiple vehicle makes and models can give you a better idea of how much certain vehicles will cost to own.
When you get car insurance with Direct Auto, there’s no room for skepticism. Our friendly, knowledgeable agents will work with you to make sure you receive all of the discounts you’re entitled to and that you’re set up with a customized payment plan that works for your budget. Call 1-877-GO-DIRECT (1-877-463-4732) or come into a Direct location near you to learn more today!
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